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Computers and Geotechnics 55 (2014) 254–266

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Computers and Geotechnics

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/compgeo

A coupled hydro-mechanical analysis for prediction of hydraulic fracture

propagation in saturated porous media using EFG mesh-less method
Mohammad Norouz Oliaei a,⇑, Ali Pak b, Kenichi Soga c
Department of Civil Engineering, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran 14115-143, Iran
Department of Civil Engineering, Sharif University of Technology, Tehran 11365-9313, Iran
Engineering Department, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 1PZ, UK

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: The details of the Element Free Galerkin (EFG) method are presented with the method being applied to a
Received 30 October 2012 study on hydraulic fracturing initiation and propagation process in a saturated porous medium using
Received in revised form 15 July 2013 coupled hydro-mechanical numerical modelling. In this EFG method, interpolation (approximation) is
Accepted 3 September 2013
based on nodes without using elements and hence an arbitrary discrete fracture path can be modelled.
Available online 12 October 2013
The numerical approach is based upon solving two governing partial differential equations of equilib-
rium and continuity of pore water simultaneously. Displacement increment and pore water pressure
increment are discretized using the same EFG shape functions. An incremental constrained Galerkin weak
Hydraulic fracture
form is used to create the discrete system of equations and a fully implicit scheme is used for discretiza-
Initiation tion in the time domain. Implementation of essential boundary conditions is based on the penalty
Mesh-less method. In order to model discrete fractures, the so-called diffraction method is used.
EFG Examples are presented and the results are compared to some closed-form solutions and FEM approx-
Coupled hydro-mechanical analysis imations in order to demonstrate the validity of the developed model and its capabilities. The model is
able to take the anisotropy and inhomogeneity of the material into account. The applicability of the
model is examined by simulating hydraulic fracture initiation and propagation process from a borehole
by injection of fluid. The maximum tensile strength criterion and Mohr–Coulomb shear criterion are used
for modelling tensile and shear fracture, respectively. The model successfully simulates the leak-off of
fluid from the fracture into the surrounding material. The results indicate the importance of pore fluid
pressure in the initiation and propagation pattern of fracture in saturated soils.
Ó 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction hydraulic fracturing, namely ground deformation, fluid flow and

fracturing process. As a result, a numerical model capable of ana-
Hydraulic fracturing (HF) refers to the parting of geomaterials lysing different aspects of hydraulic fracturing can be a valuable
due to excessively high fluid pressure. The most common applica- tool to overcome some uncertainties in the design of hydraulic
tion of HF is enhance oil recovery, in which increase in functional fracturing in soils. Since capturing the pattern of arbitrary fracture
permeability of the ground is achieved by the formation of perme- growth is an essential ingredient in HF modelling, a numerical
able fractures. In geotechnical engineering, HF is one of the causes scheme for modelling the hydraulic fracturing path is developed
of cracks in earth and rockfill dams. It is also used for grouting to in this research using a fully coupled hydro-mechanical element
create impermeable barriers or to control ground settlements. free Galerkin (EFG) mesh-less method.
In spite of the significant advances in the technique of in situ The FEM for modelling complex problems in engineering sci-
hydraulic fracturing, its design still requires a good deal of engi- ence is well established. However, it is not without shortcomings.
neering judgment and practical experience. That is, the ability to One of them is crack propagation problems. The use of a mesh in
determine the fracture path, shape, dimensions and fracture con- modelling these problems creates difficulties in the treatment of
ductivities is still not fully developed. This is due to the complex discontinuities and large distortions that do not coincide with
interaction among the different mechanisms that are involved in the original mesh lines. This is an inherent weakness of FEM, which
is related to its element-based shape functions.
One solution for such a problem is remeshing the domain using
⇑ Corresponding author. Tel.: +98 21 82884395; fax: +98 21 82884914. adaptive computational algorithm. However, projection of field
E-mail addresses: M.Olyaei@modares.ac.ir, norooz2222@yahoo.com
variables between the meshes used in successive stages of an
(M.N. Oliaei).

0266-352X/$ - see front matter Ó 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
M.N. Oliaei et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 55 (2014) 254–266 255

analysis leads to degradation of the accuracy. For large three- is that it does not require any element connectivity data and
dimensional problems, the computational cost of remeshing at does not suffer much degradation in accuracy when nodal
each step of an analysis becomes prohibitively expensive. Further- arrangements are irregular [15]. Because of the gridless character
more, it is almost impossible to automatically remesh finite ele- of the method, a growing crack can be modelled simply by
ments for an arbitrarily growing crack. Therefore most of the extending the free surfaces in the domain which correspond to
FEM methods developed to date involve interactive analysis where the crack. This dramatically simplifies the modelling of moving
the user guides the remeshing after each step of analysis [1]. cracks, since it eliminates the need for remeshing. Another
An effective solution to avoid mesh dependency is to use a advantage of the EFG method compared with the FEM is the
mesh-less method. This method does not require any element for dependent variable and its gradient are continuous in the entire
shape function construction and hence provides no connectivity domain, and hence post processing to obtain smooth gradient
between elements and nodes. The principle attractions of mesh- fields is unnecessary [15]. The shape functions obtained by the
less methods are their simplified adaptability and ability to cope EFG approximation based on nodes (not elements) are both con-
with moving boundaries and discontinuities. There are a number sistent and compatible. They are of a higher order compare to
of mesh-less (or mesh-free) methods that have been proposed in those used in the ordinary FEM, which effectively induces more
the past (e.g. [2]). accurate approximations compared to solutions obtained by a
Among these methods some of them are well known and distorted mesh in FEM.
achieved remarkable success in recent years. These methods can The main objective of this paper is to investigate the validity
be classified into two major categories based on the shape function and capability of the EFG formulation developed in this study in or-
construction approach: der to predict hydraulic fracture propagation. The coupled analysis
of soil deformation and fluid flow in inhomogeneous/anisotropic
i Finite integral representation methods, i.e. Smooth Particle saturated porous media is conducted. In Section 2, the EFG shape
Hydrodynamics or SPH [3,4]. function construction and the MLS approximation are briefly de-
ii Finite series representation methods, i.e. the Element Free scribed. In Section 3, the weak forms are developed through a glo-
Galerkin (EFG) method [5] based on MLS (Moving Least bal equilibrium at each time-step. Then spatial variables (i.e.
Squares) and the Point Interpolation Method (PIM) [6]. displacement and pore water pressure increments) are discretized
by the same EFG shape functions. A fully implicit scheme in time
The MLS shape functions adopted in EFG are both consistent domain is used to avoid spurious ripple effect. An algorithm for
and compatible; the PIM shape functions, however, are consistent numerical solution is proposed to solve hydraulic fracture initia-
but not compatible. The SPH shape functions are compatible but tion and propagation problems based on EFG. The (so-called) dif-
not consistent near the boundary of the problem domain. Consis- fraction technique [16] is introduced for the construction of
tency is the capability of the field function approximation method mesh-less approximation with discontinuities and nonconvex
to reproduce the fields of lowest orders of complete polynomials at boundaries. Section 4 presents the numerical analysis of 2D cou-
any point in the problem domain. Compatibility refers to the con- pled consolidation problem and crack propagation problem using
tinuity of the approximation on the boundaries between subdo- fracture mechanics. Hydraulic fracture initiation pressure and the
mains, based on which shape the functions are constructed. Both pattern of hydraulic fracture propagation are computed and results
consistency and compatibility affect the accuracy and convergence are compared to the closed-form and/or numerical (FEM) solutions
of the numerical results [2]. to examine the accuracy of the new algorithm. Conclusions are gi-
The first attempt to apply mesh-less strategies to a soil–water ven in the final section.
coupled problem was made by Modaressi and Aubert [7] using
the coupled EFG–FEM technique. In their work, displacements of
solid skeleton are modelled by the standard FEM, whereas fluid 2. Element Free Galerkin (EFG) shape function and Moving Least
pressures are determined by element–free nodes. This attempt Squares (MLS) approximation
was followed by Murakami et al. [8] with an elasto-plastic consti-
tutive relation within the infinitesimal strain theory and by Mura- The Element Free Galerkin (EFG) method establishes system of
kami and Arimoto [9] and Arimoto et al. [10] in finite strain with equations for the whole problem domain without the use of a pre-
the aim to capture the localization phenomenon in saturated soil. defined mesh. To represent (not discretize) the problem domain
Murakami et al. [11] also used EFG in the analysis of a punch prob- and its boundaries, a set of nodes are scattered within the problem
lem for a soft soil foundation which has stress singularity prob- domain as well as on the boundaries. Therefore, the construction of
lems. They used the forward difference approximation (fully shape functions is only based on the nodes as shown in Fig. 1.
explicit scheme) for discretization in time domain. Wang et al. The EFG method employs the MLS approximation to construct
[12] proposed to use the backward difference approximation (fully the shape function and approximate the desired function as given
implicit scheme) in time domain to avoid spurious ripple effect. by Eq. (7) in Fig. 1. As shown in Eqs. (3) and (8) through Eq. (15) of
Oliaei et al. [13] further examined the stability criteria for coupled Fig. 1, the EFG shape function and its spatial derivatives within the
soil deformation and pore fluid flow problems. problem domain are constructed from two_ components: (i) a
Generally, two major approaches are possible for modelling of weight function associated with each node-ðW ðX  XI ÞÞ; and (ii) a
fracture: one is considering discrete fractures and the other is the basis function usually consisting of a polynomial-(PT(X)). The
use of smeared cracking. Discrete fracture modelling is the pre- weight function is nonzero over a small subdomain around a node,
ferred technique for simulating the propagation of a small number which is called its support. The support of the weight function de-
of individual fractures over the use of smeared cracking since it fines a node’s influence domain, which is the area (or volume) over
does not suffer from stress locking, spurious modes and directional a particular node contributing to the approximation. The overlap of
bias [14]. Among available mesh-free methods, the EFG method the nodal influence domains defines the nodal connectivity. P(X) –
developed by Belytschko et al. [5] is adopted in this study for mod- Eqs. (2) and (3) in Fig. 1 – is a vector of basis functions that contains
elling of discrete hydraulic fracture propagation. most often of monomials of the lowest orders to ensure minimum
The EFG method has been used for the simulation of growing completeness.
crack problems, both static and dynamic [1,15]. Its key advan- Most mesh-less weight functions are bell-shaped and the fol-
tage for modelling this class of problems using the EFG method lowing equations have been proposed in the past [2].
256 M.N. Oliaei et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 55 (2014) 254–266

Fig. 1. EFG shape function and its derivatives construction flow chart in the presented EFG code. based on the work of Belytschko et al. [5].
M.N. Oliaei et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 55 (2014) 254–266 257

(a) Cubic spline weight function (W3): (2) Continuity equation of fluid flow
2 2 3
r:ðqv Þ  G ¼  ð20Þ
< 3  4r þ 4r
> for r 6 12 @t
_ _
W ðX  XI Þ ¼ W ðrÞ ¼ 43  4r þ 4r 2  43 r 3 for 1
<r61 ð16Þ where q is the density of fluid, v is the Darcy’s velocity vector of
0 for r > 1 fluid flow, G is the fluid mass flux from sink or source, n is the poros-
ity of soil mass and t is time.
(b) Quadratic spline(weight function (W4): In this derivation, the pore fluid is considered to be water with
_ _ 1  6r 2 þ 8r 3  3r 4 for r 6 1 constant density. This assumption is the same as the incompress-
W ðX  XI Þ ¼ W ðrÞ ¼ ð17Þ
0 for r > 1 ibility equation of solid–water mixture in Biot’s consolidation the-
ory [22]. Considering that sink or source term can be considered
(c) Exponential weight
( function (W ): later as a boundary condition, Eq. (20) is written in the following
_ _ eðr=aÞ for r 6 1 form.
W ðX  XI Þ ¼ W ðrÞ ¼ ð18Þ
0 for r > 1
r:ðv Þ ¼  ð21Þ
where a is constant (a = 0.3 has been recommended by Liu [2]). In @t
Eqs. (16)–(18), r = kX  XIk/(Rid)I where kX  XIk is the distance be- The soil deformation is governed by Terzaghi’s effective stress
tween the evaluation point and the node I and (Rid)I is the radius of principle.
the influence domain of the Ith node. These weight functions have
been tested and have proved to work very well for many applica-
Dr0ij ¼ Drij  aDpdij ð22Þ
tions and have basically been adopted for various kinds of problems
[2]. where r is the effective stress tensor, a is Biot’s coefficient (1 for
MLS, which is originated by mathematicians for data fitting and soils), Dp is the pore water pressure increment, and dij is kronecker
surface construction, is often termed local regression and loss [17]. delta.
Nayroles et al. [18] were the first to use MLS procedure to construct The constitutive law for soil skeleton in incremental form is
shape functions for the Diffuse Element Method (DEM). DEM was written as
modified by Belytschko et al. [5], as the EFG method, where the
MLS approximation is also employed. The MLS approximation – 1
with a bell-shaped weight function – has two major features that
Dr0ij ¼ Dijkl ðDekl  cs dkl DpÞ ð23Þ
make it popular: (1) the approximated field function is continuous
where Dijkl is the soil skeleton stiffness matrix, Dekl is the total strain
and smooth in the entire problem domain; and (2) it is capable of
increment tensor, and cs is the compressibility of solid particles of
producing an approximation with the desired order of consistency.
One attractive property of the MLS approximants is that their con-
The constitutive relationship for water flow in porous media is
tinuity is related to the continuity of the weight function; there-
Darcy’s law.
fore, a low order polynomial basis, e.g., a linear basis – which has
used in this study – can be used to generate highly continuous  
approximations by choosing an appropriate weight function [5]. v i ¼ K ij zþ ð24Þ
c ;j
The shape functions of this method are global and can be used
all over the domain. where Kij is the permeability tensor of soil skeleton, z is the eleva-
Although the MLS approximation is both consistent and com- tion head, p is the pore water pressure, and c is the unit weight of
patible, the use of the MLS approximation produces shape function water.
that do not possess the Kronecker delta function property, which Boundary conditions for soil skeleton boundary and fluid
implies that one cannot impose essential boundary conditions in boundary can be written as follows
the same way as in conventional FEM. In order to solve this prob-

lem, the penalty method proposed by Liu and Yang [19] is used in i
ui ¼ u on Cu  ½0; 1Þ
this study to create constrained Galerkin weak form for imposing for soil skeleton boundary ð25Þ
rij nj ¼ ti on Ct  ½0; 1Þ
essential boundary conditions. The use of the penalty method pro-
duces equation systems of the same dimensions such that the con- 
p¼p  on  ½0; 1Þ
ventional FEM produces for the same number of nodes, and the for fluid boundary ð26Þ
modified stiffness matrix is still positive definite, banded, and sym-
v i ¼ v i on  ½0; 1Þ
metric. The treatment of boundary conditions is as simple as it is in where ui is the displacement vector, u  i is the boundary value of dis-
conventional FEM. However, the disadvantage of penalty method is placement, Cu is the displacement boundary, nj is the unit normal
the way of selection a suitable large positive number for each set of vector at the boundary, t i is the boundary value of traction, Ct is
the equations. the traction boundary, p is the pore pressure, p  is the boundary va-
lue of pore pressure, Cp is the pore pressure boundary, vi is Darcy’s
3. Formulation velocity vector, v i is the boundary value of Darcy’s velocity, and Cv
is the velocity (flux) boundary.
3.1. Strong and weak forms The initial conditions can be written as

For soil deformation–water flow coupled problems, there are ui ¼ ui jt¼0 on X 0
two sets of governing equations [20,21]: p ¼ pjt¼0 on X 0
where X is the domain.
(1) Equilibrium equation in incremental form
By applying the weighted residual method on Eq. (19) and
inserting Eqs. (22), (23), and (25) into Eq. (19), the following con-
Drij;j þ Dbi ¼ 0 ð19Þ
strained Galerkin weak form of the equilibrium equation is
where rij is the total stress tensor, and bi is the body force vector. obtained.
258 M.N. Oliaei et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 55 (2014) 254–266

dðLDuÞT Dijkl Dekl dX  X dðDuÞT Dbi dX  Ct dðDuÞT Dt i dC þ X dðLDuÞT adij DpdX
X the Ith node. The procedure of constructing uI and its spatial deriv-
 X dðLDuÞT ð1=3Þcs Dijkl dkl DpdX  d Cu ð1=2ÞðDu  Du ÞT apu ðDu  Du
 ÞdC atives is given in Fig. 1.
R T Differential operator matrices L and Lp are given by
d Cs ð1=2ÞðDu  þ  Du  Þ bpu ðDu
 þ  Du  ÞdC ¼ 0
2 3
ð28Þ @=@x 0 0 @=@y 0 @=@z
6 7
where d(Du) is the test function, L is the differential operator, Du is
LT ¼ 4 0 @=@y 0 @=@x @=@z 0 5 ð33Þ
the incremental displacements, Du  is the prescribed incremental 0 0 @=@z 0 @=@y @=@x
displacements on the essential boundary, apu is the penalty factor
for the weak form of equilibrium equation to penalize the difference LTp ¼ ½ @=@x @=@y @=@z  ð34Þ
between the incremental displacements of the MLS approximation
and the prescribed incremental displacements on the essential By using Eqs. (31)–(34), the products of LDuh and LoDph become
boundary, Cs is the interface of the different materials in an inho- 2 3
uI;x 0 0
mogeneous body, Du  þ and Du  are the incremental displacements 6 0
6 uI;y 0 7 78 9
in the different materials but on the two sides of interfaces and n 6 7>
< DuxI >
= X
X 6 0 0 uI;z 7
7 n
bpu is the penalty factor for the weak form of equilibrium equation h
LDu ¼ 6 DuyI ¼ BI DuI ð35Þ
6u uI;x 0 7>7 >
to penalize the difference between Du  þ and Du
 . I 6 I;y : ; I
6 7 DuzI
According to the time domain discretization methods, the fol- 4 0 uI;z uI;y 5
lowing relation can be used for a field function f in the time interval uI;z 0 uI;x
of [t, t + Dt]:
2 3
f ¼ ð1  hÞft þ hftþDt ¼ ft þ hDf ð29Þ uI;x
6u 7 X
Lp Dph ¼ 4 I;y 5DpI ¼ BpI DpI ð36Þ
where h can vary from zero (fully explicit scheme) to 1.0 (fully im- I
plicit scheme). The approximation is unconditionally stable when
uI;z I

h P 0:5, but for any value of h – 1 the numerical solution can exhi- where uI,x, uI,y, uI,z are the MLS shape function spatial derivatives of
bit a spurious rippling effect [12]. This time integration is applied to the Ith node.
Eq. (24). As Eq. (30) is discretized, app is a scalar, where as apu in Eq. (28)
By using the weighted residual method and inserting Eqs. (24) is a diagonal matrix of penalty factors.
and (26) into Eq. (21), the weak form for the continuity equation 2 3
of pore water is expressed as apux 0 0
R R R apu ¼ 6
4 0 apuy 7
0 5 ð37Þ
Cv dðDpÞT ðv i ni ÞdC þ T
X dðLp DpÞ ðK ij =cÞpt;j dX
K i3 dX þ X dðLp DpÞ

ÞT app ðDp  Dp
þ X dðLp DpÞ hðK ij =cÞDp;j dX þ X dðDpÞ ð@n=@tÞdX  d Cp ð1=2ÞðDp  Dp ÞdC
0 0 apuz
d Cs ð1=2ÞðDp þ  Dp ÞT bpp ðDp
 þ  Dp
 ÞdC ¼ 0 The penalty factors can be functions of coordinates and they can
ð30Þ be different from each other, but in practice an identical constant
of a large positive number is assigned for each set of the equations
where d(Dp) is the test function, Lp is the differential operator, Dp is [19]. bpp and bpu have the same form of app and apu, but their values
the pore water pressure increment, Dp  is the prescribed pore water may be different. The appropriate selection of the penalty factors is
pressure increment on the essential boundary, app is the penalty given in Oliaei et al. [13] for coupled soil deformation and pore
factor for the weak form of continuity equation to penalize the dif- fluid flow problems.
ference between the pore water pressure increment of MLS approx- Substituting Eqs. (31), (32), (35), and (37) into Eq. (28), the first
imation and the prescribed pore water pressure increment on the system equation can be obtained for the equilibrium equation.
essential boundary, Cs is the interface of the different materials in Similarly, by substituting Eqs. (32) and (36) into Eq. (30), and with
an inhomogeneous body, Dp þ and Dp  are the pore water pressure consideration of
increments in the different materials but on the two sides of inter- 8 9
faces and bpp is the penalty factor for the weak form of continuity > DuxI >
 < = X
equation to penalize the difference between Dp þ and Dp  . Dev ¼ uI;x uI;y uI;z DuyI ¼ C I DuI ð38Þ
: >
; I
3.2. Numerical discretization
the second system equation can be obtained for the continuity
Displacement increments Du and pore water pressure incre- equation.
ment Dp at any time and at any point are approximated using These two equations constitute the final system of discrete
Eq. (7) in Fig. 1. equations for the entire problem domain in the EFG method. These
equations should be solved simultaneously for a fully coupled
8 9h 2 38 9
< Dux >
> = X
uI 0 0 < DuxI >
> = X
analysis. The matrix equation in coupled form is therefore written
h 6 7 ð31Þ as
Du ¼ Duy ¼ 4 0 uI 0 5 DuyI ¼ UI DuI
: >
; > > " # ( )
Duz I
0 0 uI : DuzI ; I
K 11 þ K au þ K bu K 12 DU

DF u þ DF au
¼ ð39Þ
K 21 K 22 þ K ap þ K bp DP DF p þ DF ap
Dph ¼ /I DpI ð32Þ where DU and DP are the global displacement increments parame-
ter vector and the global pore pressure increment parameter vector,
where Duh is the approximated displacement increments, Dph is the respectively. K11, K12, K21 and K22 are the parts of global coefficient
approximated pore water pressure increment, DuI is the displace- matrix. The non-diagonal terms in the matrix [K] of Eq. (39) repre-
ment increments of the Ith node, DpI is the pore water pressure sent the coupling terms in the analysis; K12 represents force
increment of the Ith node, n is the number of nodes in the neigh- induced by pore pressure and K21 represents fluid flow caused by
bourhood of the point of interest (Gauss point) which the point is the ground deformation. DFu and DFp are the global force incre-
in the influence domain of node, uI is the MLS shape function of ments vector and the global fluid flux increment vector,
M.N. Oliaei et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 55 (2014) 254–266 259

respectively. They are the standard terms in the conventional soil– The procedure sequence for the numerical algorithm of the
water coupled problem derivations. developed EFG code is illustrated in Fig. 2.
In EFG method the nodal matrices and vectors can, in fact, be
viewed as the basic components for assembling the global matrices 3.3. Discontinuities in approximations
and vectors. It has been clearly shown that EFG method operates
on nodes, in contrast to the operation on elements in the FEM, With the use of node-based interpolation techniques, mesh-less
where the element matrices and vectors are the basic components methods offer great opportunities to handle problems of complex
for assembling. geometries. However, since there is no connectivity between
The nodal matrices and vectors for the above mentioned terms nodes, difficulties arise in determining the domain of influence of
can be written as a node. The influence domain usually takes a simple shape, for
example circular, for simple geometries of problems. The influence
K 11ij ¼ BTi DBj dX ð40Þ of a node on any other point is directly computed by the distance
between the node and the point via the use of the weight functions
such as Eq. (16) through Eq. (18). When a domain involves discon-
K 12ij ¼ BTi ð1=3Þcs Dm/j dX  BTi am/j dX ð41Þ
tinuities such as cracks, an influence domain may contain irregular
boundary fragments. Hence the computation of nodal weights sim-
ply based on physical distance can be erroneous as the discontinu-
K 21ij ¼ /i C j dX ð42Þ
ity of the field variables caused by the complex boundary is not
accounted for (Fig. 3).
A number of techniques have been reported on the construction
K 22ij ¼ hDt BTpi ðK w =cÞBpj dX ð43Þ
of mesh-less approximation with discontinuities and nonconvex
boundaries. There are three typical methods: the visibility, diffrac-
tion and transparency methods [16]. These methods have been
DF u i ¼ UTi DbdX þ UTi DtdC ð44Þ
X Ct used for defining the profile of the influence domain and comput-
ing the weight of influence in mesh-less approximations with
irregular boundaries.
DF pi ¼ Dt BTpi K w3 dX  Dt BTpi ðK w =cÞBpi pi dX  Dt /i v Ti ni dC The visibility method is simple, but the weight function by vis-
X X Cv
ibility criterion is discontinuous within the influence domain
around the tip of a discontinuity line. As a consequence the shape
where ‘m’ represents dij in a vector form i.e. functions constructed are also discontinuous, which is undesirable
m ¼ h 1 1 1 0 0 0 iT , Kw represents the permeability tensor in a mesh-less approximation. Moreover, the visibility criterion
and K Tw3 ¼ ½ 0 0 K z  introduces the datum effect. In DF pi the first may not be very easy to adapt to concave boundaries such as holes.
and second terms are the flows due to changes in velocity, while The transparency method was developed to smooth a mesh-less
the third term indicates the effect of specified flux on the approximation around the tip of a discontinuity line with a varying
boundaries. degree of transparency, from completely transparent at the tip of
In Eq. (39), K au and K ap are the global penalty matrices assembled discontinuity to completely opaque at a distance away from the
using the nodal penalty matrices, whereas DF au and DF ap are the glo- tip. As a consequence, the shape functions constructed are de-
bal penalty increments vectors assembled using the nodal penalty pended to degree of transparency, which is undesirable in a
increments vectors. The nodal matrices and vectors for these terms mesh-less approximation.
are defined as follows. The diffraction method was used in the EFG code developed for
Z this study. The development of this method has been motivated by
K auij ¼ UTi apu Uj dC ð46Þ the way light diffracts around a sharp corner, such as crack tip, but
the equations used in constructing the domain of influence and the
Z weight function bear almost no relationship to the equations of dif-
K apij ¼ /i app /j dC ð47Þ fraction. This technique applies only to polar-type weight func-
Cp tions, such as Eq. (16) through Eq. (18), where the weights are
Z defined as a function of a single distance-related weight parameter.
DF aui ¼ UTi apu Du dC ð48Þ The mechanism of the diffraction method is illustrated in Fig. 4,
Cu where the straight line represents a crack. By the diffraction meth-
Z od, the crack line is treated as opaque; therefore, the length of the
DF api ¼ /i app Dp
 dC ð49Þ ray is evaluated by a path that passes around the crack tip. Accord-
Cp ing to Belytschko et al. [16], the weight parameter s associated
with point P is computed by
Furthermore, in Eq. (39), K bu and K bp are the global penalty matrices
assembled using the nodal penalty matrices in other to connect the  k
s1 þ s2 ðxÞ
different materials in an inhomogeneous body. The nodal matrices sðxÞ ¼ s0 ðxÞ ð52Þ
s0 ðxÞ
for these terms are defined as follows.
Z where s0, s1, and s2 are shown in Fig. 4, and k is a user-defined
b T
K uij ¼ ½Uþi  Ui  bpu ½Uþj  Uj dC ð50Þ parameter. The domain of influence is determined by the condition
that the weight function vanishes. As a result, the domain of influ-
Z ence, as given by the criterion w(s) > 0, contracts around the crack
K pij ¼ ½/þi  /i bpp ½/þj  /j dC ð51Þ tip (see Fig. 4).
The diffraction method has been applied to nonconvex bound-
where /þ 
i and /i are the shape functions created using the nodes in aries such as hole. Fig. 5 illustrates such an example, where the
different materials that have influence on the quadrature points parameter s is constructed from the lengths of two line segments
along the interfaces by a nonpenetration rule [23]. that just graze the boundary.
260 M.N. Oliaei et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 55 (2014) 254–266

Fig. 2. The procedure sequence for the numerical algorithm of the developed EFG code.

The major benefit of the diffraction method is that the weight the EFG solution for soil deformation–fluid flow coupled problems.
function and shape function are continuous within the influence A summary of recommended parameters is listed in Table 1.
domain but are discontinuous across the crack line. The derivatives Then, the application of the developed EFG code to determine
of the shape function are multiple valued at the crack tip but this hydraulic fracture initiation pressure and to predict hydraulic frac-
should cause no difficulties. However, it results in the cost of lower ture propagation path in homogeneous and inhomogeneous satu-
efficiency in computing the derivatives of shape functions. Care rated soils will be conducted and complex interactions among
should also be exercised because when node and point are very ground deformation, fluid flow and fracturing process will be
close, i.e., s0(x) is close to zero, the weight parameter s becomes examined.
infinite, causing difficulty in computation. Therefore, it is required
that all nodes have a minimum distance to the crack surface.
4.1. Prediction of hydraulic fracture propagation in saturated soils

Hydraulic fracture propagation from a hole inside a saturated

4. Numerical results cemented soil sample for low permeability (undrained) and high
permeability (drained) conditions using tensile and shear criteria
Two examples were used to verify the developed EFG code. The is simulated. The maximum tensile strength criterion and Mohr–
first example considered the numerical validity of the EFG mesh- Coulomb shear criterion are used for modelling tensile and shear
less method by solving fully coupled hydro-mechanical problem fracture, respectively. This example is designed to compare the
[24] and the second example evaluated the numerical capability EFG results with analytical, experimental and field results and to
of the method to model discrete fracture growth in rock [25]. investigate the capability of the developed EFG code.
The last one was considered as an example of interaction between However, the shear criterion in the developed EFG code can pre-
ground deformation and fracturing process. dict very good the hydraulic fracture initiation pressure (similar to
To investigate the numerical stability and the desired level of tension criterion), using shear fracture criterion for modelling of
accuracy of the EFG solution for coupled hydro-mechanical prob- hydraulic fracture propagation in saturated soils by the developed
lems, a sensitivity analysis was conducted to examine the numer- EFG code has been shown that the rate of extension in plastic shear
ical parameters that influence the solutions [13]. Based on the failure zone in the sample with respect to the rate of crack propa-
findings, the parameters are chosen to guarantee the accuracy of gation is extremely high; which means the shear band cannot
M.N. Oliaei et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 55 (2014) 254–266 261

Fig. 2 (continued)

considered. The characteristic parameters for the problem are as

follow: The initial total outside and inside confining pressures of
the sample r = 200 kPa, The initial pore pressure in the sample
P = 100 kPa, Young’s modulus E = 10 MPa and Poisson’s ratio
v = 0.45. The permeability is K = 1010 m/s for the low permeability
case and K = 105 m/s for the high permeability case. The borehole
radius is a = 1 cm and the dimension of the sample is W = 10 cm.
The tensile strength of cemented soil ðr0t  rt Þ is 100 kPa. It is as-
sumed that the shear strength of the cemented soil is very large
compared to the tensile strength and hence the soil always fracture
in tension.
When the initial stresses on the homogeneous sample are iso-
tropic, increasing the pressure of the injected fluid in the borehole
up to hydraulic fracture initiation pressure, causes tensile crack to
propagate from the borehole in any radial directions. However, in
reality, deformation around the borehole is not uniform and the
fracture initiates at a localized point or zone. Therefore, in this
Fig. 3. Highly irregular influence domain [2].
example, after fracturing, a microcrack (1 mm length) is considered
created properly. It coincides to the field and laboratory test results at the borehole wall in positive x direction to initiate hydraulic
for boreholes in cemented soils which the propagation of tensile fracture propagation from this point due to hydraulic pressure
fracture is almost dominant with respect to shear fracture. There- and leak-off from crack and also borehole.
fore, tensile fracture criterion has been presented in this study. The nodal arrangement of the EFG model is shown in Fig. 7(a). It
consists of (i) a regular arrangement in the domain, (ii) a radial–
(i) Homogeneous soil tangential arrangement on the borehole wall, (iii) a radial arrange-
ment at the crack tip which is progressive with the crack tip [1]
Fig. 6 shows the geometry of the problem simulating laboratory and (iv) an arrangement on crack surfaces after propagation. The
testing of hydraulic fracturing. A plane strain analysis is arrangement of the background integration mesh is shown in
262 M.N. Oliaei et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 55 (2014) 254–266

Table 1
Guidelines to guarantee the accuracy of the EFG solution for coupled hydro-
mechanical problems [13].

2 2
h =ðcv DtÞ 6 2 for 1D, h =ðcv DtÞ 6 3 for 2D
app = 10 (K/c)
apu = 1048E
Dimension (radius) of influence domain = (1.25–1.75) average local diagonal
nodal spacing
Number of Gauss points = at least about 5 times the number of nodes
(It reflects the number of integration cells and the order of integration. These
two have to be balanced)
Type of weight function
Cubic spline weight function
Quadratic spline weight function
Exponential weight function (with constant parameter P 0:3Þ
Type of weight function has not much effect on results

Fig. 4. The diffraction method to determine the influence domain [2] (a) Definition
of parameters (b) Domain of influence.

Fig. 6. Geometry of the model for the problem of hydraulic fracture initiation
pressure determination and propagation path prediction.

nodal displacements and nodal pore pressures are calculated at the

end of each time step and the procedure will be repeated as men-
tioned above. Although a constant flux is assumed around the
crack for simplicity, more investigation in this area is required to
study the effect of bulk fluid flow inside the crack.
The applied flux on the borehole wall acts as traction on the
wall until the domain around the borehole reaches to tensile fail-
ure as shown in Fig. 8(a) for the low permeability soil case. The ex-
Fig. 5. The diffraction method applied to concave boundary [2].
cess pore pressure does not generate inside the domain and hence
the pore pressure in the domain is approximately constant over
Fig. 7(b). The Gauss points arrangement is 3  3 for each cell, ex- time as shown in Fig. 8(b). Therefore, it is essentially an undrained
cept in three rows and three columns in the middle of the model, cavity expansion in elastic medium. Using cylindrical cavity expan-
which is 5  5 for each cell. sion theory, the hydraulic fracture pressure for tensile fracture in
After applying initial stresses and pore pressures on the sample, undrained condition can be obtained as follows [26]:
a constant fluid flux is applied on the borehole wall such that the
Pf ¼ 2r3i  u0 þ r0t ð53Þ
flow rate to the borehole is Q = 1  109 m3/s. Nodal displacements
and nodal pore pressures are calculated in each time step; then the where Pf is hydraulic fracture pressure, r3i is initial applied mini-
pore pressure calculated on the borehole wall is applied as fluid mum principle stress, u0 is initial pore pressure and r0t is tensile
traction on the borehole wall in the next time step together with strength of soil.
the constant flux on the borehole wall. For the outer boundary, The fracture initiation pressure of the high permeability soil
the flow boundary conditions are zero flux for the low permeability case was smaller than that of the low permeability soil case as
(undrained) case and constant pressure (P = 100 kPa) for the high shown in Fig. 9(a). This is due to leak-off of fluid to the soil sample
permeability (drained) case. After fracturing, constant flux on the when the soil is permeable. The pore fluid pressure around the
borehole wall and crack surfaces is applied in each time step. Then, borehole is increasing due to fluid injection in the borehole as
M.N. Oliaei et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 55 (2014) 254–266 263

Undrained Condition - Tension Criterion


Pore Pressure (Kpa)

0 10 20 30 40 50 60
time (s)

Fig. 8(b). The variation of pore pressure around the cavity due to fluid injection for
undrained condition under tensile failure criterion.

Drained Condition - Tension Criterion

Hydraulic Fracture Pressure (Kpa)

400 H.F.



Fig. 7(a). Nodal arrangement of the EFG model (half of the model). 100

0 50 100 150 200 250 300
time (s)

Fig. 9(a). The variation of cavity surface traction due to fluid injection for drained
condition under tensile failure criterion.

Drained Condition - Tension Criterion

Pore Pressure (Kpa)




Fig. 7(b). The arrangement of the background integration mesh (a quarter of the
model). 0 50 100 150 200 250 300
time (s)

Undrained Condition - Tension Criterion Fig. 9(b). The variation of pore pressure around the cavity due to fluid injection for
drained condition under tensile failure criterion.
Hydraulic Fracture Pressure (Kpa)


400 pore pressure in the soil will cause tensile failure on the borehole
Bjerrum et al. [27] have evaluated hydraulic fracture pressure at
a cylindrical cavity in permeable soil to interpret the fracturing
conditions around a driven piezometer. Vertical cracks in the radial
100 direction from the piezometer develop when the circumferential
effective stress reduces to the negative sign of the tensile strength
0 of the soil. Hence, the hydraulic fracture pressure for tensile frac-
0 10 20 30 40 50 60
ture in drained condition can be obtained as follows:
time (s)  
Pinj ¼ u0 þ  1 ½rt þ ð1  aÞr0h0  ð54Þ
Fig. 8(a). The variation of cavity surface traction due to fluid injection for undrained v
condition under tensile failure criterion.
where Pinj is injection pressure, u0 is the initial pore pressure, v is
shown in Fig. 9(b), which reduces the effective stress of the soil. Poisson’s ratio, rt is the tensile strength, r0h0 is the initial horizontal
Increasing of the traction on the borehole wall together with the effective stresses and a is a disturbance factor for the changes in
264 M.N. Oliaei et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 55 (2014) 254–266

Table 2 Tension Criterion

The comparison between hydraulic fracture initiation pressures for analytical 500
solutions and EFG results, using tensile failure (facture) criterion and under different Drained Condition
permeability (drainage) conditions (U: undrained, D: drained, T: tensile). Undrained Condition

Crack Pressure (Kpa)

Pf (kPa) EFG Analytical
U–T 425 400 300
D–T 323 344


Undrained Condition - Tension Criterion

Hydraulic Fracture Pressure (Kpa)

450 0.01 0.02 0.03 0.04 0.05
X (m)
Fig. 11. The fluid pressure variation along the crack axis and in the time step before
430 the last time step for tensile failure criterion.


410 Drained Condition - Tension Criterion

51 52 53 54 55 300

Pore Pressure (Kpa)

time (s)

Fig. 10(a). Fluid pressure at crack entrance during hydraulic fracture propagation 200 t=264
for undrained condition under tensile failure criterion. t=272
Drained Condition - Tension Criterion
Hydraulic Fracture Pressure (Kpa)

340 0.01 0.02 0.03 0.04 0.05
X (m)
Fig. 12(a). The pore pressure in domain during hydraulic fracture propagation (I
320 axis) for drained condition under tensile failure criterion.


300 Drained Condition - Tension Criterion

264 266 268 270 272 274 276 278 280 350
time (s) 300
Pore Pressure (Kpa)

Fig. 10(b). Fluid pressure at crack entrance during hydraulic fracture propagation 250
for drained condition under tensile failure criterion. t=264
circumferential effective stress due to piezometer installation. a 100
varies between 0.4 and 1.1 based on soil compressibility.
The comparison of hydraulic fracture initiation pressure for
analytical/semi-analytical solutions and EFG results, using tensile 0
0.01 0.02 0.03 0.04 0.05
failure (fracture) criterion and under different permeability (drain-
age) conditions, are presented in Table 2. The computed fracturing X (m)
pressures are obtained from Fig. 8(a) and 9(a), whereas the theo-
Fig. 12(b). The pore pressure in domain during hydraulic fracture propagation (J
retical values are calculated from Eqs. (53) and (54). The EFG re- axis) for drained condition under tensile failure criterion.
sults are very good agreement with closed form analytical
Figs. 10(a) and 10(b) shows the fluid pressure at node A – Fig. 7 for the high permeability soil case, there is pore pressure gradient
– during HF propagation for low and high permeability soil cases. due to infiltration of fluid from crack to the surrounding material.
Node A is separated into nodes A1 and A2 at the entrance of crack The progress of infiltration (leak-off) is illustrated in Figs. 12(a)–(c)
after fracturing. The figure shows variation of fluid pressure during in which the pore pressures along the three lines (I, J and K) in
hydraulic fracture propagation until reaching to the outer bound- Fig. 7(a) are plotted at three different times (at the beginning of
ary of the sample. The propagation of crack is faster and takes place crack propagation or crack initiation, at the middle of crack propa-
under higher stresses in low permeability soil than in high perme- gation and at the end of crack propagation) for darined case. As ex-
ability soil. pected, the pore pressure is rising with time and the magnitude of
Fig. 11 shows the fluid pressure variation inside the crack, along the increase is greater at locations close to the crack axis and the
the crack propagation axis at one step before the crack reaches to borehole.
the outer boundary. For the low permeability soil case, the fluid
pressure is approximately constant along the crack axis, whereas (ii) Heterogeneous soil
M.N. Oliaei et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 55 (2014) 254–266 265

Drained Condition - Tension Criterion selected to be 0.001 times of its Young’s modulus. The confining
350 pressures for this problem are as the same as the homogeneous soil
300 in (i). The initial nodal arrangement of the EFG model is shown in
Pore Pressure (Kpa)

Fig. 14 by black circles. A radial nodal arrangement at the crack tip

(progressive with the crack position) and also an arrangement on
200 t=264 crack surfaces after crack propagation are added after fracturing
t=272 takes place. The arrangement of the background integration mesh
t=280 is 10  10, and the Gauss points arrangement is 5  5 for each cell.
100 The hydraulic fracture propagation path for the heterogeneous
50 soil problem is presented in Fig. 14 by white triangular markers.
After hydraulic fracture initiation, the crack propagates from the
borehole towards the weaker layers. During crack propagation,
0.01 0.02 0.03 0.04 0.05
when the crack reaches to a new layer, crack deviates from the pre-
X (m)
vious path. The amount of deviation depends on the difference be-
Fig. 12(c). The pore pressure in domain during hydraulic fracture propagation (K tween characteristic parameters (strength and stiffness) of two
axis) for drained condition under tensile failure criterion. different layers. When the crack reaches to a very stiff layer with
high strength, the crack cannot propagate through this layer and
it grows parallel to the layer toward the outer boundary.

E = 50 MPa 5. Conclusions
E = 30MPa
In this paper, the details of the Element Free Galerkin (EFG)
2 mesh-less method and its numerical implementation have been
presented to study the hydraulic fracture initiation and propaga-
1 tion using coupled hydro-mechanical numerical modelling in geo-
E = 20MPa
technical engineering. EFG is an effective method to approximate
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 and numerically determine the field variables (displacement and
-1 pore water pressure). Unlike other mesh-less methods, the EFG
has a simple approach for construction of shape functions and its
spatial derivatives. This is due to nature of its polynomial basis
E = 5MPa and weight function. The weak forms are developed through a glo-
bal equilibrium at each time-step using the coupled expression.
E = 10MPa -4
Essential boundary conditions can be easily implemented using
-5 penalty method. A fully implicit scheme in time domain is used
to achieve stability and accuracy and avoid spurious ripple effect.
E = 100MPa
The validity, feasibility and capability of the EFG method are illus-
Fig. 13. Geometry of the model for the problem of prediction of hydraulic fracture trated by examples of hydraulic fracture initiation and propagation
propagation path in inhomogeneous domain. in saturated soils.
While the EFG method is attractive in many problems because
of the simplicity of discretization (only nodes in and on boundaries
are needed) and avoidance of post-processing (results are already
smooth), its greatest appeal is in problems with large change in
geometry, such as progressive fracture, where finite element meth-
ods require considerable remeshing. Hence, by using the EFG
method, the arbitrary discrete fracture path can be simulated
Finally, the involved fluid response in crack is hard to describe,
i.e. around the crack tip. Although a constant flux is assumed in this
paper around the crack for simplicity, more investigation in this
area is required to study the effect of bulk fluid flow inside the
crack. Research is currently under way by the authors.


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